Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter 22 of Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson (MoI).
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing.
Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Just a heads-up on some housekeeping over the next few posts: Due to the length and large amount of information, we’re going to split Chapter 23 into two posts (we’ll do the same for the same reasons with Chapter 25). The first post will cover scenes 1-6, ending with Kruppe’s, “Hear naught until meaning itself disperses . . . ” The second post will pick up at scene 7, with Picker staring out, “on the black waters of Ortnal’s Cut.”
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
As Toc listens, the Seerdomin tells the Seer the Matron is getting worse and that Toc cannot walk anymore. Toc thinks to himself, “there is a wolf . . . trapped in this cage—my chest, these bones . . . The wolf cannot call . . . call . . . To whom? I’d rested my hand once on her furred shoulder . . . So close, traveling in step, yet not awakened . . . such tragic ignorance.” The Seerdomin warns that if Toc is returned to the Matron she will kill him and the Seer becomes angered at the Seerdomin’s impertinence. The Seer asks a bystander—the Septarch Ultentha—who tells the Seer to relieve Toc of his horror, but the Seer refuses: “He is mine! He is Mother’s! She needs him—someone to hold—she needs him!” The Seer threatens to kill them if they persist, then tells them to leave Toc there and asks for reports. Ultentha discusses defense plans. The Seer says he wants Brood’s hammer, Brood dead, Malazans wiped out, and Itkovian delivered as replacement for Toc. The Seer wonders why the armies remain divided despite the Ravens having discovered the empty cities. When the Septarch discusses disease, the Seer says the Domin soldiers will be protected by Poliel, though he cannot say why she does so when the Seerdomin asks. Toc, somewhat crazed, laughs and the Seer wants to know what amuses him. Toc tells him Dujek’s army is the deadliest one in the Empire and it is coming for him, something the Matron senses if the Seer does not. The Seer says the Matron does not fear the Malazans, but is frightened by the ancient terror of Moon’s Spawn. Not Rake and the Andii, who co-opted the flying keep and, according to the Seer, don’t know close to all its abilities, but by the memories it brings up of the K’chain Nah-rhuk—the Short-Tails—who waged war on the K’chain Che’Malle. He says her fears are instinctual and groundless as Moon’s Spawn is nowhere near, possibly even destroyed. His condors have searched for it and found nothing. The Seer says he is breaking all of Toc’s faiths one by one, until all he has left is hope the Seer is merciful. The Seer commands the Seerdomin to return Toc and when he brings him back, he tells Toc the Matron’s chain does not allow her to reach the entire room and he will put Toc out of reach, bring him food, water, and a blanket, saying the Seer will be too distracted to notice. When Toc says, “He will have you devoured,” Seerdomin replies, “I was devoured long ago.” Toc says he is sorry to hear that and the Seerdomin is moved by Toc’s compassion. Toc asks if ice still chokes the sea and the Seerdomin says some “unexpected twist” has cleared the harbor, though there is still ice and raging storms out in the bay.
Envy and Lanas speak on the Meckros City, now roughly 20 leagues from Coral Envy thinks. When Envy mentions Tool, Lanas says she saw him only once, when he spoke out against the ritual. When Envy says Lanas must hate him, she replies no, they merely disagreed and he acquiesced to the majority. Lanas adds that it is typically thought that “truth is proved by weight of numbers. That what the many believe to be right, must be so. When I see Onos T’oolan once more, I will tell him: he was the one who was right.” Envy mentions she’d been wondering why the Seguleh haven’t challenged Lanas and tell the T’lan that it turns out Seguleh will not fight women unless attacked. She warns Lanas therefore not to do so, saying Tool had some trouble with Senu and Thurule and was probably evenly matched by Mok. When Envy continues, complaining about how Garath is still angry with her, Lanas says it is because “the ay has awakened.” Envy says she’s aware of that, and that she feels bad for the wolf-gods: “an eternity alone.” Lanas asks who granted the ay this “edged gift” and Envy answers: “A misguided sibling who’d thought he was being kind . . . had found the goddess, terribly damaged by the Fall, and needed a warm-blooded place to lay her spirit so that it could heal.” When Lanas says Envy’s sibling has a “misplaced sense of mercy,” Envy agrees.
At Lest, Korlat watches as Crone angrily reports to Kallor, telling him “You still do not grasp the gravity of this! Fool! Ox! Where is Anomander Rake? . . . I must speak with him—warn him . . . [that] unknown sorcery lies within those abominable vultures [the Seer’s condors].” When she says the Ravens are being kept away from Coral and that the Seer is preparing, Kallor says of course they are. Crone demands to know where Moon’s Spawn is and when nobody answers, she panics, telling Korlat Rake has failed and “taken three-quarters of the Tiste Andii with him!” Brood asks what is happening with the Malazans and she says they’re close to Setta. Kallor takes their unexpected pace as a sign of deception. Brood tells Crone to keep an eye on Dujek’s army and to have faith in Rake. Korlat’s attention wanders and she realizes it has been doing that a lot lately, that her only concern centers on Whiskeyjack, whom she loves. She recalls the first time she saw him, riding to the parley and how he’d caught her eye even then. She is still stunned that Rake calls him “friend,” something she has known him to do with only one other—Brood—with whom he had forged such close ties of friendship over centuries and then millennia, unlike the speed of his friendship with Whiskeyjack. She thinks they share something of spirit, though she admits she cannot see it: “Anomander Rake cannot be reached out to, cannot be so much as touched—not his true self. I have never known what lies behind my Lord’s eyes. I have but sensed its vast capacity—but not the flavor of all that it contains. But Whiskeyjack . . . while I cannot see all that is within him, I can see the cost of containment. The bleeding but not the wound. And I can see his strength.” Crone continues bemoaning the state of things, wondering where Silverfox and the Mhybe are, why the Grey Swords and Gruntle’s legion march so far behind the rest, why the Malazans were so quick to divide the army, where Rake is, and even if the Andii are alive. The scene closes with Korlat begging Whiskeyjack—the “thief of her thoughts” to never release her.
Itkovian and Gruntle watch two scouts approach to make a report to the Shield Anvil and Destriant. Stonny tells them they’re dumb for watching and wondering and she rides off to find out what the report is about. As the two men wait for her return, Itkovian muses on how Gruntle—with his indifference to discipline or a sense of hierarchy and the way he despises anything military—is his total opposite. Stonny returns and tells them Bauchelain and Broach’s carriage is riding behind them. When he asks about Buke and she says he isn’t there, Gruntle rides off toward the necromancers. Stonny asks Itkovian to go with him. As they ride, Itkovian tells Gruntle he once offered to take Buke’s burden but he refused. Gruntle says Itkovian should have done it anyway, as the new Shield Anvil did with Anaster, who now rides beside her, though Itkovian says he is “but a shell. There was naught else within him but pain. It’s taking has stolen his knowledge of himself,” and asks if that’s really what Gruntle would want for Buke. They reach the necromancers’ carriage and when Gruntle questions him, Reese tells him Buke flew away, which calms Gruntle. Bauchelain steps out and asks what they want, warning them he’s short-tempered. Gruntle says they got what they wanted and before they leave, Itkovian asks Bauchelain why he doesn’t do something for Reese’s toothache. Bauchelain sighs and says he’ll tell Broach to get ready for another surgery, upbraiding Reese for this being the third tooth he’s broken eating olives. Reese turns white and begs no more surgery. Gruntle and Itkovian ride away. When Itkovian asks why Gruntle is laughing, Gruntle tells him Reese will curse him forever, because sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.
Inside Hood’s temple, Coll and Murillio wait while Death’s Knight prepares the Mhybe’s place. Coll thinks depressing thoughts. A poet’s snippet: “The world spins about us unseen. The blind dance in circles. There’s no escaping what you are, and all your dreams glittered white at night but grey in the light of day.” Of Simtal telling him she was pregnant before she’d destroyed his earlier life, though he does not know if there actually had been a child, and if so, what happened to it. He asks Murillio who tells him there were rumors and he thinks she had a child and sent it away. They didn’t tell Coll because he was a drunk and a wreck. Coll says he’ll have Baruk help him find the child. Murillio tells him he can’t just claim it out of whoever’s house the child is in, plus he says Coll can’t raise a child, though he could be a “hidden benefactor.” The Knight returns and leads them to a large hole in the room’s center where the Mhybe will go, and it looks like a sarcophagus to Coll and Murillio.
The Mhybe dreams. The tundra and hunters have disappeared and she wanders “desolation . . . no grasses underfoot, no sweet cool wind. The hum of the blackflies was gone . . . The sky overhead was colorless, devoid of cloud or even sun.” She is weakening and feels she will soon dissolve. She thinks now that “nothing had been as it had seemed—it had all been something different, something secret, a riddle she’d yet to work out. And now it was too late. Oblivion had come for her . . . Perhaps those visions had been the products of her own mind after all.” She comes across a towering mass of bones, “a cage of ribs, each rib scarred, knotted with malignant growths . . . Between each bone, sing was stretched, enclosing whatever was within.” She wonders if it is her heart inside and wants to flee, but the “it” inside senses her, “demanded that she stay . . . that she come closer . . . touch . . . then it began to pull. And the land beneath her shifted, tilted . . . the ribs were no ribs no longer. They were legs. And skin was not skin. It had become a web. And she was sliding.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty Two:
Tales to Scare Children—not sure what is going on here, but it’s bloody creepy, isn’t it? That “...and now was!” is incredibly sinister. Trying to work out who the spider is here... Someone manipulative—well, we know many like that! From older books, we’ve seen Shadowthrone associated with spiders. I can imagine Envy fitting the role. Of course, the Crippled God is sat in the shadows manipulating everything. In fact, we’d do better listing all those who wouldn’t be the spider. *winks*
I feel as though I say ‘poor Toc’ way too often, but it’s the way I think. Especially when I remember the sardonic, good humoured fellow he used to be—I mourn him. Now his mindless panic causes the Matron to squeeze tighter: “He can no longer walk, and his breath seems so laboured within that malformed chest.”
Hmm, is the damage to Toc causing Togg pain as well? Creating a cage from which he can’t call to his mate anymore?
Ooh, that paragraph is intriguing: “So close, travelling in step, yet not awakened...such tragic ignorance.” Did Togg once travel with the one who holds his mate? Or did Toc? I’m trying to work out the personages represented, because I think it will confirm the fate of... maybe, the Mhybe? [Bill: Remember whom Toc was traveling with—with Togg inside him—before he joined the Tenescowri.]
Is the Seer worried that the Matron will embrace him if he has no one else to offer?
“Shall I gather my Winged Ones?” Reference to the vultures created from the Crippled God?
Hmm, I can see Ultentha eating his words here:
“They’ll not send scouts to the forested ridge on their right - I will stake my soul on that.”
“The skies have been cleared...”
Do you think he knows that Crone is always sneaking around? And how about that pesky flying rock?
Is the Seer so vindictive towards the Grey Swords because of the way they defended Capustan? Or is it something else?
Surely Togg cannot die? Especially not now that the Grey Swords have pledged to him...
“But the wolf chose the wrong man, the wrong body. When he came down to take my eye - that flash of grey, burning, that I’d thought a stone - I’d been whole, young, sound. But the Matron has me now.”
Oh, hang on! The Matron is panicking! About what? Here is a quick reply: Moon’s Spawn. Huh, how strange that I had never once considered what Moon’s Spawn was, or where it came from! Because it has always been associated with the Tiste Andii, I just assumed that it was connected to them. Never assume... We’re now given the formal name for the Short-Tails—K’Chain Nah’rhuk.
So Anomander Rake cannot access the full powers of Moon’s Spawn? Since we’ve now been told about these powers (the gun on the mantelpiece) I’m thinking they’re going to become an important plot point at some point—of course, could happen in book ten. *winks*
I hate the Seer. Hate him.
This gentle moment between the Seerdomin and Toc is beautiful—the fact that Toc is even able to show compassion right now shows both the strength of the man and the fact that he is not quite broken.
I wonder how many of the T’lan Imass now feel as Lanas Tog does? That the Ritual was a mistake? Many, I’d imagine, based on the fact that they have begged for release.
Now I have to try and work out who Lady Envy’s sibling is... “My sibling had found the goddess, terribly damaged by the Fall, and needed a warm-blooded place to lay her spirit, so that it could heal.”
Does Crone show her power or her recklessness by calling Brood ‘fool’ and ‘ox’?
I think here that Kallor possibly has the right of it to call deceit—rare to say that!:
“You heard the bird, Kallor. The Malazans march. Faster than we’d expected, true, but that is all.”
Wow, I’m breathless at these thoughts swirling through Korlat’s mind about Whiskeyjack. Such depth of love:
“Her wants were held, one and all, in the eyes of a man. A mortal, of angled, edged nobility. A man past his youth, a soul layered in scars - yet he had surrendered it to her.”
“And you, my dear lover, thief of all my thoughts, will you ever release me? Please. Do not. Ever.”
The only problem... I see tragedy in their future. How can this possibly succeed, this love affair between mortal and immortal? In the midst of a war?
Here is a question—how did Brood and Rake ever form their alliance, their relationship? There must be a helluva story in that? Do we ever get that story within these books, or is it something that Erikson plans to showcase in a different series? I sincerely hope so! I imagine it being cataclysmic!
And I sincerely want to know more about this:
“Anomander Rake cannot be reached out to, cannot be so much as touched - not his true self. I have never known what lies behind my Lord’s eyes. I have but sensed its vast capacity - but not the flavour of all that it contains.”
*grins* I LOVE the idea of two companies called Riff and Raff! Stonny, Itkovian and Gruntle are fantastic foils for each other in conversational terms. I really enjoy their banter. Interesting that Erikson puts together such opposites in the form of Itkovian and Gruntle.
Heh, does the cat sense the Tiger?
Ahh, here is the reference to the spider, and it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. “There’s no escaping what you are, and all your dreams glittered white at night, but grey in the light of day.” At least I did reference the sinister aspect of it!
You know something? I suspect we might just meet Coll’s child! I do love the fact that Coll feels this child presents a reason for staying sober and holding himself up.
We have another echo here, between Toc and the Mhybe:
“And she was weakening, her youthful muscles failing in some undefinable way [...] Her lungs ached, as if they too were losing their ability to function.”
Sinister start to the chapter; sinister end. What trial does the Mhybe face now?
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty Two:
So we left off with Toc’s Seerdomin feeling kind of good toward the guy for all the reasons we listed in the prior chapter, and here we are with him starting us off by arguing that perhaps Toc deserves a break. More appealing acts and words from him, and more suspense as the reader can’t help but wonder if he will help Toc escape.
By now we should all be pretty clear that Toc carries the wolf god within him, but never hurts I suppose to remind the reader—so we get Toc’s very direct, very blunt statements to that effect.
There’s that word “embrace” again, by the way... 84 times in this book, according to my trusty Kindle. To be honest, I would have even guessed more.
I do find it interesting that here, in the Seer’s very seat of power, with how he looks and all as well, that two of his officers are willing if not to defy him, to at least argue with him. You see it a little later as well when the Seer is questioned as to Poliel’s motivations. Not what one would usually expect I think in these sort of situations.
We’ve remarked on the parallels/mirrors among storylines and we see one here when the Seer tells his officers: “She [the matron] needs him . . . “ and the Seerdomin replies, “Her love is proving fatal.” It’s an interesting turnaround of the Mhybe/Silverfox relationship: in one, the child kills the mother; in the other the mother kills the child.
When someone says “Person A won’t do X; I will stake my soul on it,” how often do you guys think to yourself—there goes one soul?
And how many hear Robert DeNiro as Al Capone in the Seer’s little “I want Caladan Brood. I want his hammer . . . I want the Malazans annihilated . . .”? I want you to find this nancy-boy Dujek and I want him dead! I want his second—Whiskeyjack—dead!
So as usual, after we get a little bit of info on the K’Chain Nah’ruk—from Kallor—if we’re patient we get a little more. Now we learn just how they fought that civil war Kallor mentioned—via great sky keeps, of which only one remains according to the Seer: Moon’s Spawn. Knowing that, and knowing what we know of the Soletaken form of Rake and a few other Andii, the Seer’s comparison of the Andii to “lizards in an abandoned tunnel” is particularly apt on several levels.
So if I react with strong skepticism to the officer guaranteeing the Malazans won’t send scouts in, my skepticism becomes doubled when the Big Bad guarantees that Moon’s Spawn is “not within two hundred leagues of here.”
A moving scene then between the Seerdomin and Toc—one we’ve been prepared forever since he handed Toc his cloak. It isn’t quite perhaps what we as readers hoped for based on earlier acts of remorse/kindness/guilt—an escape attempt—but we’ll take this bit of compassion and sacrifice. One made more moving by Toc’s own returned compassion and empathy when he worries about the repercussions for the Seerdomin—I love that long pause before the Seerdomin can speak: “I am ever surpassed.” And what a devastating line of his just before then—“I was devoured long ago.” Back and forth we go on that concept from metaphor to literal back to metaphor.
We’re really starting to see that whole T’lan Imass happily undead forever after idea getting chipped away, aren’t we? First via Kilava and Tool in their own complex thoughts toward it, plus we’ve got rebel Imass, then the Second Gathering’s aching request for relief, then the Wolf God’s desire to have the Ay freed of the ritual, and now Lanas’ belief that Tool was right after all. Toss in the whole other side of the Jaghut war and that act, which on the surface seemed such noble sacrifice, is becoming a terrifyingly dark concept.
So we got Toc and Togg’s clarifying little summary, and now we get more info on what happened with Fanderay and Baaljaag—Fanderay found “terribly damaged by the Fall” while Baaljaag’s pack was dead, leaving her the last Ay on the continent. We saw this scene earlier via Toc’s connection:
“. . . standing before her, a figure. Cowled, swathed in roughly woven black wool, a hand—wrapped in leather straps, down to the very fingers—reaching out. Warmth. Welcome. A palpable compassion . . . an Elder God . . . ‘there will be need for you in time. Thus, I promise that I shall bring to you a lost spirit. Torn from its flesh. A suitable one, of course. For that reason, my search may be a long one.”
My own view, Amanda, is the Elder God is K’rul for a few reasons. One is the sense of compassion. Another is the long view (though that’s certainly not exclusive to K’rul in this series). And third is that the god puts Baaljaag into a dream world. In this reading, I’m taking the use of Envy’s “sibling” to mean sort of “family” rather than actual sibling. It is, however, left open. And I’ll confess that if we have another god described in the black wool and leather-strapped hands, I’m not at this point recalling just that detail—feel free to mention it if any of you veterans do. So the “there will be need for you in time”—one which on the quick surface seems to apply to acting as a vessel for Fanderay. But then, the idea that the god will have to “search” for a long time to find a suitable spirit, and the “thus” seems to indicate that there is a need for Baaljaag (or an Ay) beyond being used as a vessel. Anyone?
I like that wry ending of Lanas and Envy’s conversation—good sense of comic timing.
I like that idea of Korlat daydreaming from being in love—this millennia-old woman.
I think, too, that millennia-old note is an important thing to remember when she thinks as Crone panics that she (Korlat) could just reach out her warren to try and find Rake and Moon’s Spawn. For a regular old mortal, that’s a hard thing to understand and might seem manipulative on the part of the author—but those that have lived as long as some of these characters aren’t just “older”—that difference in years has to be qualitative as well as quantitative—it has to have an impact on how one thinks, how one reacts (or doesn’t react).
Speaking of that, imagine living those millennia with no seeming friends—as with Rake. In all that time, his sole acknowledged one (which doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel that way about others) is Brood, a relationship based on respect and only getting together every few centuries or so. Combine that with the burden of being responsible for an entire people. I wonder if this is the connection between Rake and Whiskeyjack—the burden of responsibility, of seeing people continue on, all the while holding oneself apart from them, as we heard Whiskeyjack has done (remember we hear of this in GoTM). Brood it appears has the burden of command, but one doesn’t get the sense of the burden of caring for who he is with—of that intense connection as between Rake and the Andii, or between Whiskeyjack and the Bridgeburners.
Some good comic relief with Gruntle and Itkovian and Stonny. Yes, the Riff and Raff, the image of the two of them looking at the report and wondering (how often do you see/hear people do this sort of thing), but I think what got the biggest laugh from me was Stonny complaining how the two are “in the way” and Gruntle asking how that can be possible on a plain. You can almost always count on Erikson breaking our mood regularly so things never get overwhelmingly heavy, unless we need to be overwhelmed (which does happen; yes, it does).
The little ride-by regarding Anaster being merely a “shell” is important—file.
Gee, wonder why Bauchelain is bad-tempered. Been a tough few days for him: the siege attacks, the Women of the Dead Seed, Quick Ben, then Hood’s threat. And I love his bluntness after Itkovian starts to answer his question about the uniform: “I wasn’t really interested.” And his thinking Reese’s toothache garb was some “newly acquired local fashion.” Not to mention of course Reese’s response to Itkovian’s attempt to get him healed.
“Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.” Something to perhaps think about as we continue on.
Talk about a shift in tone—from the comedy of this scene with Itkovian and Gruntle, right into the “stench of smoke,” “bloodstains,” “the slaughter of acolytes.”
So Mhybe-Silverfox, Matron-Toc, now Coll and his perhaps-child with Simtal—lots of parental issues going on. I like Murillio’s honest bluntness when Coll starts going all starry-eyed on his ability to raise a child: “I know you can’t.”
Well, the Mhybe is finally starting to get it—that perhaps the wolves weren’t out to get her, that maybe hell wasn’t really hell. Then, just as we’re thinking maybe it’s not too late (though she herself thinks so), we get, as Amanda says, quite the sinister end.
Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.
Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.